Black Christian Women Now: Where Do We Stand?

Black Christian Women Now: Where Do We Stand?

Part 1: Introduction to Series: Taking Stock and Measuring Up

It’s not black history month or Martin Luther King, Jr. day, but that’s the thing about truth and wisdom, they endure beyond designated holidays or observances. In 1963, Dr. King wrote these words:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

This statement is from the chapter, On Being a Good Neighbor, in King’s book, “Strength to Love,” a collection of sermons, essays, and other meditative reflections. It is part of a Socratic sequence in which he presses black Christians to release their concerns for comfort, safety, reputation, and status, and venture into the often-tumultuous waters of the fight for change and justice. Black Christian women face the same choice: Will we allow our communities to further deteriorate because we are hesitant or flat out unwilling to speak Truth to color—starting with ourselves? Our measure lies in what we do now that we are faced with a doubled-down barrage of challenge and controversy.

Black citizens are being brutalized and killed with impunity by fellow citizens and by those sworn to protect and serve. Teachers and school administrators are railroading black children into a corrupt and unjust justice system through disciplinary policies that target them. Black health is compromised by disparate access, diagnosis, and treatment. Black women are beaten and killed by those with whom they bear children, share meals and share beds. As caretakers and guardians of our families, we are weakened by unhealthy load-bearing that renders us prime candidates for depression and other mental or emotional problems.

Faced with this stark cultural landscape, it is incumbent upon black women to assess our situation and see where we stand. For black Christian women, this assessment must include an examination of our faith against biblical truth and standards; for we surely cannot and will not stand successfully in challenge if our foundation is weakened by beliefs and behaviors that do not reflect biblical fidelity. Consequently we won’t be prepared to be ambassadors who bring health, hope, and transformation in policy, education, family, criminal justice, or other arenas of society. This series attempts to make these assessments and offers suggestions for a path ahead.

One exploration of where we stand has already been undertaken. In March of this year, the Black Women’s Roundtable—the “civic engagement network” of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation—released a special report, “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges.” The report evaluates the state of black women by highlighting data on health, education, workforce participation, economic standing, political engagement, and exposure to violence. Notably the report reflects and confirms the two-steps-forward-one-step-back dynamic in which we seem stuck, showing progress in some areas, inertia in others. High school diploma and college degree attainment are up but haven’t translated into better or higher-paying jobs. We have the highest level of workforce participation but still are concentrated in the lowest-paying, lowest-skilled employment tiers. Black women have had the highest rate of electoral participation in the last two elections but have not seen that loyalty rewarded with political attention or policy gains.

An evaluation that focuses on these types of socioeconomic indicators is not a bad place to start as we take stock of our lives. It points us to areas of outcome stagnation and policy resistance as we plan how to move forward, but it fails to address other critical measures of our wellbeing. The plan for this series is to fill in gaps left by this and similar reports by digging beneath the surface of the numbers and deconstructing our apparent spiritual dissonance: studies indicate we are probably the most devoutly religious of any demographic, but our lives don’t reflect the transformation and power typically associated with such devotion. I’ll examine the status of our media; families and other relationships; sex and sexuality, mental and emotional health and its connection to our physical health; and the intersection of our actual lived experiences and biblical constructs.

To get a sense of the context of this project, check out my Sisters and Citizens series:

Part 1: An Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry 

Part 2: An Open Letter to Black Christian Women 

Part 3: Called to Contend

In Africa, Church Leaders Responding to Climate Change Locally and Globally

In Africa, Church Leaders Responding to Climate Change Locally and Globally

c. 2014 Religion News Service

RNS-AFRICA-CLIMATE

A delegation of Lutheran Church leaders in Africa look at the drying corpse of a cow in the Kajiado area of southeastern Kenya. Climate change is causing serious and frequent droughts that decimate livestock in Africa’s rural areas. Religion News Service (Photo Credit: Fredrick Nzwili)

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) As climate change devastates communities in Kenya, church leaders are helping to address the crisis locally while also calling on industrialized nations to own up to their responsibilities for spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

“I think they (industrialized nations) are responsible for most of the emissions,” said Peter Solomon Gichira, the climate change program officer at the All Africa Conference of Churches. “They have responsibility to support climate change adaptation and mitigation as a moral obligation.”

“But we (in Africa) also have a role to play because we have not been very good stewards of the environment,” added Gichira, a poverty and development expert.

People living in the Global South such as Kenya are suffering the worst consequences, climate experts say.

Droughts have become more severe and recurrent and are frequently followed by excessive rains or floods. Temperatures are much higher and weather patterns are now unpredictable.

In conferences, church leaders and officials have heard from experts that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from industrial plants trap heat, slowing or preventing it from being lost in space.

“We need enhanced adaptive capacity in partnership with the nations,” said the Rev. Patrick Maina, a conservationist with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.

Maina runs a massive tree planting project on church compounds and members’ farms in his presbytery in the Great Rift Valley area. He also gives talks on climate change.

Recently, Maina and other church leaders have stepped up efforts to help communities cope with the crisis.

In eastern Kenya, villagers are constructing structures known as sand dams with support from the Mennonite Central Committee. Working through the Utooni Development Organization, a self-help group, villagers in the largely Christian Utooni area are building large concrete walls across a dry riverbed, stopping or slowing down the rapid flow of rainwater to the Indian Ocean.

The simple structures — 231 have been built since 2009 — store water under the riverbed, so it can be used for irrigation, tree planting and domestic consumption throughout the year. With 50 sand dams constructed each year, the area is much cooler and better to live in, according to Esther Mbolu, a resident of Utooni.

Selena McCoy Carpenter, Kenya representative with the Mennonite Central Committee, said some people who did not have water can now access it and others who could not grow food are now capable of farming.

“By providing basic needs, we are showing God’s compassion,” she said.

On the slopes of Mount Kenya, Trade Craft East Africa, a nongovernmental organization and the Christian Community Services of Mount Kenya East, a development agency in five Anglican dioceses, are helping small-scale farmers adapt to climate change through use of both modern and traditional weather forecasting methods.

Farmers predict weather by using indigenous practices such as watching flying dragonflies, low-swooping swallows or flowering acacia trees.

But with weather patterns becoming unpredictable, farmers have been adding scientific forecasts delivered by meteorologists to determine when or what crops to plant.

“This is resulting in good harvest,” said Eston Njuki, a program officer at British-based Christian Aid, which funded the project with the Anglican Diocese of Mbeere. “The farmers are able to beat or reduce the threat of climate change.”

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